Taking on the (horse) world

o Long road to the games: Jennifer Annetts and Churinga Goldfire (‘Goldie’ to her friends) are a common sight in training on local rural roads as Jennifer prepares for the World Equestrian Games.
o Long road to the games: Jennifer Annetts and Churinga Goldfire (‘Goldie’ to her friends) are a common sight in training on local rural roads as Jennifer prepares for the World Equestrian Games.

Jennifer Annetts and Churinga Goldfire or one of Jennifer’s other endurance horses are a common sight riding along Red Range and Glen Legh Roads in the later afternoons and weekends, but this is no casual canter.

Jennifer has been selected in the five-rider  team to represent Australia in the endurance event at the World Equestrian Games to be held in Normandy, France in August, and she is in training to optimise her performance in the gruelling 160 kilometre one-day event.

The World Equestrian Games is  the largest equestrian event in the world, celebrated every four years (alternating with the Olympic Games). Endurance is one of eight equestrian disciplines contested.

Jennifer was involved in Glen Innes Pony Club as a youngster but has gone on to specialise in endurance events, taking her (and her support crew including mum Trish) all over Australia. Endurance rides may vary from 80 to 160 kilometres over one day, and there are marathon rides of two days of 100km rides and the annual Shazada event of 80km on each of five consecutive days. 

In each event the horse’s wellbeing is paramount, with regular vet checks along the course and a final clearance at the end. Jennifer said it’s possible to be first across the line but then to be disqualified because the horse can’t meet set benchmarks for temperature, hydration, heart rate and soundness within 20 minutes of crossing the line for each stage of an event.

She expects all horses competing at the games to be supremely fit, and to be presented to vet check points within minutes of completing a stage. Her crewmember Chris Gates is responsible for cooling down her mount Castlebar Contraband and having him ready for his vet check as quickly as possible, as the timer for the ride doesn’t stop until the horse is presented.

There are no corresponding health concerns for the rider.

“We just have to suck it up,” Jennifer said.

She is unfamiliar with the course she will be riding in Normandy on August 28, but hopes to at least walk sections of it before the big day. She’s relying on the experience of a fellow team member who rode the course last year, who has said it is challenging and quite technical.

The technical parts can involve steep slopes and winding paths around obstacles, but Jennifer said she is not one to let the horse have its head.

“I tell the horse where to go, and exactly what to do,” she said.

This won’t be Jennifer’s first international experience. She competed at both the 2005 World Endurance Championships for Young Riders in Bahrain and again at the 2007 championships in Argentina. On both occasions she was in the company of Sasha Laws-King, who has also been selected  for this Australian team.

In 2005 there were concerns about her own mount handling the stress of overseas travel and international competition, leading to Meg Wade and Mr Gates of Castlebar Endurance Arabians stepping in to offer one of their horses. So began a relationship which will now see Jennifer riding Castlebar Contraband at the World Equestrian Games.

Contraband is similarly in heavy training, and Jennifer will join up with him for some combined training before he flies out with from Melbourne with his four-legged teammates on August 13. The pair completed the 160km endurance ride at Bet Bet in Victoria earlier this year in a time of 10 hours and 44 minutes, and Jennifer is hoping to better that in Normandy.

Jennifer said she rides her own race without being too concerned about what other riders are doing, but if she getting to the end stages of the race and the horse is feeling good, she may work out where she is in the field and “kick it up a few gears”.

The Bet Bet ride and other endurance rides had qualified Jennifer for selection to the World Equestrian Games team, but it was still a harrowing process to the very end.

“We had to wait to hear if I’d made the long list, and then the short list, and then the final selection was supposed to be announced on June 16.  I didn’t get the call until 10-to-five that afternoon,” Jennifer said.

She is now looking forward to a three-to-four week trip overseas, meaning a break from her teaching responsibilities at Wytaliba Public School . Her support crew will include her mum and brother Luke, and Contraband’s owners and trainer, among others.

This will be her first foray into open international competition, and she said she’s nervous, and excited, and can’t wait to compete.